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DoD News Briefing, Thursday, July 29, 1999 by Rear Admiral Craig Quigley

Presenters: Rear Admiral Craig Quigley, DASD PA
July 29, 1999 1:30 PM EDT

Rear Admiral Quigley: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I have three short announcements today.

I want to call your attention to a blue topper [news release] that we're releasing today on U.S. military participation in the Military World Games which start next week in Zagreb, Croatia. We're sending more than 350 athletes and officials from all of the military services to compete in 21 separate events. They'll join an estimated 8,000 athletes from nearly 80 countries in this quadrennial competition among military forces.

The blue top mentions a send-off ceremony for these athletes has been scheduled for next Wednesday up at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. For more information on that, see Lieutenant Colonel Warzinski in DDI. We'll be trying to get some of that information to the sportswriters and sports correspondents in your news organizations as well.

A second announcement, more then 350 servicemembers from the U.S. armed forces are deploying this weekend to the Ukraine for an "in the spirit of" Partnership for Peace exercise called PEACE SHIELD '99 which runs August 1st through the 14th. They'll join forces there with about 650 soldiers from 17 other nations at the newly designated NATO Partnership for Peace Training Center at Yavoriv in the Ukraine. Two hundred and fifty members of the California Army National Guard's 40th Infantry Division will provide command and control for National Guard units from Kansas and Illinois. The U.S. sponsor for the exercise is the Southern European Task Force located at Vicenza, Italy. Again, more details in the blue top.

Finally for announcements, ten U.S. soldiers have arrived in Zimbabwe, Africa today to provide training in humanitarian demining techniques to selected members of their armed forces. Eight members of the 3rd Special Forces Group from Fort Bragg, and two surveyors assigned to the U.S. European Command Headquarters will provide training on techniques for minefield survey, mine clearance, and advanced medical training. Again, that will start this Sunday, the first of August, and continue through September.

I have no other announcements. I'm prepared to take your questions.

Q: Can you give us your assessment of the scope of the mine problem in Zimbabwe?

A: They have asked for our help. It's a part of our overall commitment to try to help, wherever we can, around the world in training indigenous forces in mine location, mine clearance, and what not.

Q: Is there any particular crisis right now?

A: No.

Q: It's just general...

A: It's at a request from the government to help out, and we have that expertise and are glad to do so.

Q: How are you doing on recovering bodies in Colombia?

A: Four sets of remains have been recovered from the crash site. We continue to search for the other three that we know to have been on board the aircraft.

We have the search and rescue party on the ground. They continue to work. But again, the weather is certainly not in our favor. It's been particularly crummy today. That has not halted work at the recovery of the additional sets of remains. The four are en-route to Bogota for autopsies.

Q: Is it American soldiers that are doing this?

A: We haven't identified the four yet.

Q: No. Are there American soldiers that are on the mountaintop doing the search and rescue effort?

A: I know we started off with a joint U.S./Colombian task force to recover those. I'll find out, John, if they're specifically there still.

Q: The Navy says it has 49 backlogs of remains of officers, mostly officers and enlisted people, waiting to be buried at sea. Why is it taking up to six months? Is it a low priority? Why suddenly now is the Navy saying it's going to have all this backlog removed within two weeks? Could it be the magic name of Kennedy is prompting this move to get it done?

A: When Admiral Reason, the Atlantic Fleet Commander, found out that there was a backlog of several weeks, and as you indicated in several months in some cases, he got personally involved in that. That was completely unacceptable to him, and is working very hard to remove that backlog.

There will be a couple of exceptions to that. In the case of family members who have particular desires for a particular place in the oceans of the world where the remains of their loved one would be buried at sea, and we'll get to those as quickly as we can. But if there's not a specific request, Admiral Reason wants that backlog cleared right away. It's the right thing to do.

Q: How is it that a backlog like that existed to begin with? Is it just that there are other priorities and if you're dead it doesn't matter? There's no rush?

A: I think everyone involved in that would admit that this was not done very well, and there's no really good reason for having the backlog there in the first place. Again, when Admiral Reason found out that that existed, his direction was to get on it and clear it as fast as we can.

Q: Any on the West Coast, or is it just an East Coast problem?

A: I'll have to take that. I don't know.

Q: Did John Kennedy, Jr. essentially leapfrog over whatever waiting list there is? Or how did he...

A: It was kind of an unusual circumstance there, John, I think. You had the USS BRISCOE who was already at sea doing training exercises off the East Coast of the U.S. And because of the ability to be timely in that request, that was the decision that was made, was to send her north to accomplish the burials of those three at sea.

Q: Back on Colombia. Is there any preliminary indication as to what caused this plane to go down?

A: No, not yet. We'll do an investigation. I will say that the terrain in that part of Colombia is extremely rugged, very mountainous, rain forest. The mountains themselves are very steep and rise very quickly.

The crash site, for instance, is about a 45 degree angle for the ground at that point. Heavily forested and frequent mists, very heavy mists in the area. But we'll do an investigation in conjunction with the Colombians on that. We'll find out, but we don't know yet.

Q: Is there any indication that there was any hostile fire involved, or even any guerrilla activity or even guerrilla communications in that area about the time of the crash?

A: We don't have any indication of either of those things yet, but we'll certainly take a look at anything and everything as part of the investigation. But we don't have any indication of either of those.

Q: Was the aircraft equipped with a ground proximity warning system? And if you don't know, can you take that question?

A: Yes, I don't know, but I'll take that. Yes.

Q: On the same subject, Colombia. There are some conflicting reports about the type of aircraft. Some say it's a RC-7, others (inaudible). Do you know exactly the type of aircraft?

A: Both are right, I guess, depending on the stage in development. The aircraft that crashed was an RC-7. That is a modification of the DeHavilland, I think it's called H-7 (sic) [DH-7] a DeHavilland. I'll check to make sure, but it is a modification of an existing commercial aircraft design. It's used very commonly down there because it's a very good aircraft for the missions of counterdrug surveillance that we ask it to perform.

Q: The FARC and other communist guerrilla groups in Colombia are growing rich on the proceeds of the cocaine trade. I understand there's even more under their protection than there has been in the past. I would ask -- Barry McCaffrey said there is inadequate U.S. attention to this situation, that it is a serious and growing emergency. Does this not threaten the national sovereignty and the national security of Colombia? And what's the U.S. solution?

A: I would certainly agree with General McCaffrey's statements about the seriousness of the situation. That's why we assist the government of Colombia in the counterdrug mission there. It is to everyone's interest that we do whatever we can to stop the production, distribution and export of illegal drugs. Not only from Colombia, but any other country around the world. We work very closely with the government of Colombia and their national police to provide training, intelligence support, equipment, to do what we can to stop the flow of drugs out of Colombia. They go not only to the United States, but a large measure of them do, so it's just the right thing to do.

Q: On Colombia. Do you call it still a search and rescue mission, so you're holding out hope that there might be survivors?

A: If I said that, I misspoke. It's a recovery mission now.

Q: Have you heard anything recently from the Hill on the F-22, how things are shaping up? The House and Senate Armed Services Committees are in conference right now on the authorization bill and also on the appropriations.

A: That would largely be the response I would give you is that they are in conference and discussing differences on that issue and others amongst the bills. For those of you who may have an interest, there was a letter signed out to a variety of members of the Congress yesterday by all of the unified CINCs, the Chairman, and the Vice-Chairman. That's one letter. And a second letter from the Chairman and the Vice-Chairman and all of the Service Chiefs in support of the F-22 program. We have copies available for that if you will.

Q: Any responses from that? Or did they give any responses?

A: We know that the letters were received. They were delivered. And we sure hope that it has a response. The sincerity of the individuals that signed that letter is genuine.

Q: Did you get signed, returned receipts? (Laughter)

A: Not a one.

Q: Is this the first time ever that that particular group of officers have signed onto a letter on a single issue, is that true?

A: I'm always reluctant to go there because 50 years ago or 40 years ago there may have been some letter that we just simply aren't aware of at this point in time. It's the first time I think recently, would be an accurate way to put it. But I can't say it's the first time ever on any issue.

Q: The first time that they've all lined up behind the F-22? It seems unusual to have Marines and Army signatures...

A: It's the first time it's really been an issue, John. I mean the program has proceeded through its development, [and] early stages of the flight testing. We're now ready to buy the first six of the production models so it's really the first time it's been an issue here. Up to this point the program has been supported for several years.

Q: So you're saying this is the first time the Joint Chiefs have all literally been on the same page. (Laughter)

A: Recently, again. I can't vouch for...

Q: They're [the signatures] not even all on the same page. (Laughter)

Q: I'll withdraw my question.

Q: Just to stay with the subject. The Navy position for some time has been that the F/A-18 was a perfectly adequate airplane for first-day operations. The Air Force's position has been that no, you needed a stealthy supercruise aircraft like the F-22 for first day of a war operation.

Is that dichotomy still there or does the Navy now accept the Air Force's position that the F-22 is needed to protect Super Hornets and other naval aircraft?

A: I think it's really slightly a different issue, a different shading, certainly of the same issue. The Navy has said that the F/A-18 Hornet is the right plane for it to use and feels confident in its use in the early stages of a conflict. I'm not aware of any Navy statements that purport to try to define what the Air Force feels is appropriate for it to use on the first days of a conflict.

As you know, the F-22 is not a joint service aircraft, and the two are complementary in the sense that they are the near-term modernization efforts in TACAIR of both services. But I don't think I've heard statements as you describe from the Navy on that. The Navy is happy with the F/A-18E&F for its use during the early stages of a war, and would certainly defer to the Air Force on their requirements.

Q: So were you planning to tell us about the latest airstrikes in Iraq today?

A: Sure. There were, in the last couple of days, there were instances in both Operation NORTHERN WATCH and SOUTHERN WATCH. They engaged sites that were, AAA sites in the North -- let's take one at a time.

In the NORTHERN WATCH activity, anti-aircraft artillery sites in the vicinity of Mosul fired at coalition aircraft patrolling the Northern No-Fly Zone. When that happened, the aircraft returned fire in the form of laser-guided bombs.

In the Southern No-Fly Zone there are two separate violations in the last couple of days. One was a pair of MiG-23s a couple of days ago penetrated the No-Fly Zone. There was also illumination of coalition aircraft patrolling the No-Fly Zone in the South. There were attacks then made against the air defense system (sic) [three Iraqi military communications sites and one military radar site] in that vicinity in the Southern No-Fly Zone within the last 24 hours or so.

Q: Can we get cockpit video of any of these recent strikes?

A: I'll see what I can do.

Q: None has been released, while we had loads of video every day from the war in Yugoslavia. We're not seeing anything from what's going on in Iraq. I'm just wondering if that's a conscious decision not to release that video or can we get it? If not, can we get an explanation for why it's okay to release it in one conflict and not another.

A: One way or the other. Yes.

Q: Is there a -- are the airstrikes against these targets when the U.S. feels it is threatened, are they preventing Saddam Hussein from rebuilding his weapons of mass destruction?

A: It's a different issue, John. We have a valid mission to patrol the Northern and Southern No-Fly Zones. The attacks in each and every case are a reaction to provocation by the Iraqis against the aircraft patrolling those no-fly zones. No provocation, no attacks.

So the aim point in each and every case is the source of the provocation -- whether that's a radar, an anti-aircraft artillery, a surface-to-air missile site or what have you. So the no-fly zones were put into place originally, to go back to 1991 and 1992, to prevent Saddam from suppressing and oppressing his own people -- Kurds in the North and the Shiites in the South. So it's a little bit different mission there in both regards.

Q: So he could be rebuilding his weapons of mass destruction and you're doing nothing about that?

A: Say that again, I'm sorry.

Q: He could be rebuilding his weapons of mass destruction and the U.S. and its allies are doing nothing about that.

A: Not in regards to any strikes from the aircraft that are patrolling the no-fly zones. That's correct.

Let me go back one second to a slightly different subject. We'll come back to that.

Ivan, you asked about burials at sea. The Navy tells me that there are only three sets of remains in the Pacific area of responsibility that are awaiting burial at sea.

Q: Thanks, can I do a follow-up on the current line of questioning?

A: Let me come back here and kind of pick up where I left off. But that takes care of the question on the burials at sea.

Q: Forty-nine in Norfolk and three sets in the Pacific.

A: Yes.

Q: I'm just trying to understand where the Pentagon believes the world or Iraq is on the issue of weapons of mass destruction.

It was described prior to the cessation of hostilities that every day that passed Saddam Hussein was one step dangerously closer to developing weapons of mass destruction. It's now been months since the last hostilities, which one could derivatively project that Saddam Hussein now has those weapons, because the Secretary of Defense said, every day that passes we're in danger of him doing it. Where are we?

A: Let me take that question.

Q: I have another one for you to take unless you happen to have the figures handy.

A: Okay.

Q: Can we get some sort of release on the number of strikes, the number of bombs dropped, the number of targets hit in Iraq since the end of Operation DESERT FOX in December?

A: Yes. Would you like them now or do you want them later?

Q: Now.

A: Okay. I don't have numbers of weapons dropped, but this is coalition responses to Iraqi provocation for all of 1999. Do you want it for all of 1999?

Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, let's start there. January, five. February, 12. March, 6. April, 7. May, 4. June, 7. July, 2.

NORTHERN WATCH. January, 12. February, 8. March, 8. April, 8. May, 10. June, 9. July, 10.

Q: What happened to the MiG-23 that penetrated the no-fly zone, and why do you never shoot down those aircraft?

A: What happened to them is they returned to their base and they were coming south as our aircraft were leaving the area. Clearly, we think as an attempt to try to get our aircraft to turn around and engage those aircraft, set up what I'm sure you've heard the term SAM-bushes all the time, and have the aircraft used as bait to bring them back into the envelope of a surface-to-air missile system or anti-aircraft artillery or what not. We didn't do that.

We have said many times that we'll reserve the selection of the time and place to respond to provocations.

Q: Taking a question from John McWethy. I would just ask for clarification as to whether the United States Air Forces currently deployed or others that could be deployed in the Persian Gulf could take action against weapons of mass destruction sites as called for if they could strike, or if they would have to receive... Do they have permission to do so? Or would they have to receive an order from the President to do so?

A: Let me answer that one as part of the overall effort to answer his. I'll take that and incorporate that aspect of the answer into both questions.

Q: Can you also just, [take] the parts of the question of mine that you didn't answer, the number of bombs and the number of targets in Iraq since the end of DESERT FOX, can you take that and see if we can get an answer to that?

A: I'll try. Most of them are posted every day on the Central Command and European Command Web Sites.

Q: The number of weapons used? They don't give the number of targets.

We have this information, for instance, for Operation ALLIED FORCE. We have it for Operation DESERT FOX. We don't have it for this ongoing enforcement effort that's continued after it. I'm just -- if we can't get the information, if we can get an explanation why.

A: Okay.

Q: Given the (unintelligible) something of a (unintelligible) since the conflict in December, I wondered if perhaps the Administration was engaged in any kind of review of a defense strategy towards Iraq?

A: No. The operations in both NORTHERN WATCH and SOUTHERN WATCH continue.

Q: You gave us a response, but not the individual aircraft. I assume those were just a response that involved one aircraft or multiple aircraft, is that what you're saying?

A: Yes.

Q: The second part is, based on that, do we see any increase in their activity in both no-fly zones since the end, say, of the Bosnian situation or the Kosovo situation? Has it stepped up at all? It seems to be fairly constant by the numbers you've given us here.

A: I'd say it's a fairly constant level.

Q: Regarding Kosovo, can you describe what happened to this dead soldier yesterday?

A: No, unfortunately, we do have, we lost the life of a soldier yesterday. I do have his name now if you want that. His next of kin has been notified. But the Army has started an investigation into his death. They're not done. We consider it serious any time there's a loss of life.

Specialist Igor Katz, K-A-T-Z, was the soldier's name.

Q: I-G-O-R.

A: I-G-O-R. Middle initial A.

Q: Do you know where he's from?

A: Florida.

Q: Age?

A: I don't have that.

Q: What were the circumstances of his death?

A: A gunshot wound to the head.

Q: Not self-inflicted?

A: Again, we're taking a look at all options.

Q: What unit was he with?

A: Assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

Q: Exactly when and where did it happen?

A: This was yesterday morning, early in the morning, 7:30 European time.

Q: Was he by himself?

A: Again, I don't have those levels of details. I would send you to the Army if they have them yet.

Q: Are there any indications that this is a result of hostile fire, of enemy fire?

A: No.

Q: Where was it?

A: Camp Bondsteel, I believe (sic) [Urosevac, Kosovo].

Q: It was within the boundaries of the camp.

A: Of the U.S. sector in Kosovo, yes.

Q: So within a protected camp. Camp B-O-N...

A: B-O-N-D-S-T-E-E-L.

Q: Could I return to TACAIR for one quick question?

A: Yes.

Q: Given the great show of solidarity for the F-22, do you have reason to believe that same solidarity is there for the Joint Strike Fighter?

A: It's a different issue and it's not come to this point in the development process. So far, the Department of Defense remains as enthusiastic about the Joint Strike Fighter as it ever has, and so far that program seems to enjoy good support on the Hill as well. I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it, Ivan, but so far there seems to be good support for that program.

Q: Just to pursue that for a second, General Ryan was quoted earlier this week as saying that if there was no F-22, that the Air Force's rationale for the Joint Strike Fighter might have to be reexamined, that they were intended to be a package. Is that a Pentagon position or is that just an Air Force position?

A: I can't add anything to what General Ryan said. We hope that's not going to be necessary. We hope that the merits of the F-22 program will carry the day and that the Congress will fund the program as it is currently structured.

Q: Is the Department of Defense on any sort of heightened alert given the coming anniversary of the embassy bombings in Africa?

A: We're always taking a very close look at that. We have made no public announcements in that regard, but it's something that we're always taking a close look at around the world. We're very much aware of the coming anniversary, and we're taking a real close look at that part of the world. If that is what's necessary to do, we'll do it without hesitation.

Q: Any decision yet on whether there should be any temporary halt in the Pentagon tours?

A: No. They continue.

Press: Thank you.